Friday, March 26, 2010

My Inspiration

Today I stumbled upon Queen Rania of Jordan's Youtube channel. I've already forgotten how I came to arrive at her channel, but that's not the important issue. The important issues are the debates and discussions that she uploaded. If some of you have already seen her videos, yes, I am one year too late. Again, that's beside the point. The point is, I fell in love today. I fell in love in her attempts and desire to change the world, "One video at a time." I was inspired at how dedicated she is in trying to change people's perspectives on Islam. Although there are some people that I know of that are against a good, solid debate, as the Royal Highness herself said, "Debate is part of the dialogue."

It is no accident that on the day I discovered Queen Rania's channel, I reached a page in the non-fictional novel, Three Cups of Tea, where Syed Abbas, the most important Shia cleric in Pakistan, gave an emotional speech to an audience that included Greg Mortenson - the American who has been building schools for the less fortunate in Pakistan's high region since the 90s - two days after 9/11:

"We share in the sorrow as people weep and suffer in America we inaugurate this school. Those who have committed this evil act against the innocent, the women and children, to create thousands of widows and orphans do not do so in the name of Islam. By the grace of Allah Almighty, may justice be served upon them.

"For this tragedy, I humbly ask Mr. George and Dr. Greg Sahib for their forgiveness. All of you, my brethren: Protect and embrace these two American brothers in our midst. Let no harm come to them. Share all you have to make the mission successful.

"These two Christian men have come halfway across the world to show our Muslim children the light of education...Why have we not be able to bring education to our children on our own? Fathers and parents, I implore you to dedicate your full effort and commitment to see that all your children are educated. Otherwise, they will merely graze like sheep in the field, at the mercy of nature and the world changing so terrifyingly around us.

"I request America to look into our hearts...and see that the great majority of us are not terrorists, but good and simple people. Our land is stricken with poverty because we are without education. But today, another candle of knowledge has been lit. In the name of Allah Almighty, may it light our way out of darkness we find ourselves in." [Mortenson, G. and Relin, D. O. Three Cups of Tea. Page 257.]

What else can I comment except that that speech speaks for itself?

Although discrimination has been on the rise since 9/11, being the optimist that I am, I see it only as the beginning of good things to come. A lot - A LOT - more people are interested in Islam. 9/11 actually opened their eyes to this second largest religion in the world. I am not saying that 9/11 was right to happen, but the tragedy is there for us to learn from. Since the day I decided to expand my knowledge in the realm of Politics three years ago, questions continue to linger in my mind especially on what I'm going to do with a BA in Political Science. And no, I've yet to get an answer. I am not interested in getting my hands dirty with the Politics of Malaysia, and I don't have the persona of a teacher. So here I am, in the lost regarding my future career. But the one thing I am truly sure of is my dedication to my faith. Maybe that will be the path I'm going to pursue?

The question now is, who am I? I am not a perfect Muslim and it might be problematic if others start listening to me. But then again, who is a perfect Muslim? Not to mention the fact that I am just one in an ocean of 1.6 billion others; what impact could I make with such a small voice? But while we are on the topic of ocean, I'd like to quote Mother Teresa: "We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop."

Thus, I am very excited for tomorrow. Tomorrow I will be involved in a workshop called Women In Islam. It will be an opportunity for Pitt students to come and learn more about Islam from us Muslims that are living in America. It is my first time, so I'm hoping to be part of the success this year.

"Say not I have found the truth, but rather I have found a truth." - Khalil Gibran, the third most widely read poet behind Shakespeare and Lao-Tzu.


Thursday, March 4, 2010


After watching My Name Is Khan, I was inspired not to write, but to simply post this essay that helped me get an A in composition. To my dad, this is not the essay, as can be figured out from the absence of your work of art.

To some this may surprised you, but to those who really know me, they won't be too shocked to find out that I actually cried the whole time I was in the movie theater. I'm that sensitive. But it all started with the first few scenes of Rizvan Khan (SRK) being called away by airport security. I was reminded of when I first arrived here. I don't think I told my parents this, but I was put into a tiny little cubicle at Dulles. We were passing through security and an officer asked me if I'm willing to pull off my scarf. Of course I said, "NO." So I was put into this small cubicle to wait for a female officer to 'pat' my head. Whatever. My concern then was just for the whole thing to be quick cause our flight was about to take off (Seriously, we had to run after that and not surprisingly, we were the last to board. At least we did not miss our plane as did Rizvan). But what I remember till today was the other lady that was stuck in that cubicle with me. She's an old Arab lady whom I think could barely speak English. She was so scared, and kept on repeating the Lord's name. I think she was telling me to recite an Ayat but I could not make out which Ayat specifically so I just nodded. Plus, this cubicle was so small, we can barely move with both of us in it. She was so scared! I know I had nothing to hide, but this lady, whom I guess had just arrived to see her family or something in the States looked like she was about to cry. That kind of discrimination made me cry during the entire film. Alhamdulillah it had been much better since that one and only incident. More Americans are also interested in learning about the Islamic faith. But there's no denying that discrimination still lingers in the air. I remember my dad told me on the day of 9/11 that my dream of going to the States will unfortunately not come true. Of course he was wrong, but to say it is easy now is an ignorant mistake to make.

Enjoy this honest-from-the-heart essay. By the way, the pictures here were also included in the essay I turned in.


Liberation in a Modern World

Oppressed and subjugated, that is absurd
Uneducated, it’s a rumor of us
Misunderstood, that’s what we really are
the veil keeps me safe from wandering eye-s.
I am not dominated, simply liberated
I ask to be seen not for my body but for my head
the one that is constantly covered in a scarf
those who call me backward, they just make me laugh.

A newborn that just came into the world is naked. Not a single strand of clothing comes out together with her from the mother’s womb. The pink baby cries and the motherly instinct to do – which ironically is the nurse’s job – is to wrap the baby in a clean white cloth to keep her safe and warm. The baby calms down and starts to fall asleep with the mother’s heartbeat as her lullaby. Life for her is complete for the moment.

My life however is far from complete. With more to do and definitely more to achieve than a simple baby’s need, do not expect me to easily be contented with current situations. I strive to be the best in everything that I do. Both worldly and spiritual. Perfection may be impossible but in the words of my dear mother, “If you aim for the stars, the least you’ll get is the moon.” I was a baby once too but no longer am now. If I stood stark naked in the road not a single person would coo at me the way that they do at babies. Instead, they would stare oddly at this stranger. Funny enough, the same goes if I am covered from head to toe. It is true that not every person judge me this certain way. Many today understand my situation. Wait…situation? That sounds wrong. That word sounds as if I am forced to be the way I am, which I am not. This is a choice and has always been so. The way that I dress is a personal preference. Yes, now that sounds better. I prefer to be this way.

“And asked Abraham's servant, ‘Who is that man walking in the field toward us?’ ‘That is my master,’ the servant replied. So she took her veil and covered herself.” (Genesis 24:64)

Not all of her acquaintances view life the same way that she does. Therefore friends and family – mostly friends – have always applauded her for not preaching. Yet she feels something is not right. Something is missing; her heart is torn. She feels selfish. She wears the veil, or hijab, because she knows how good it feels like to not be doomed to follow every single fashion off the catwalks of New York from miniskirts to see-through shirts. Nevertheless, she keeps the feeling all to herself. Although guilty of such offence of the autumn boot, that was it for her. If only others could understand the way she feels. It is not so that they would imitate the way she dresses but so that they would just understand her. That is why she chooses not to preach. She does not believe in coercion. She believes in acceptance. Why ask someone to do something they refuse just to hear them complain about it later? It is not worthwhile. Especially if the complaints attack not just the identity of a person, but also the belief of million others around the world.

In today’s society where her religion is such a hot topic, she dares not say more than necessary. Lucky for her that she is currently in a country that supports personal liberty: everyone has a right. However, she does not want her choice of clothes to be called an expression, as many have thought it is. This is not a matter of freedom of expression. At the same time it is also not to be seen as a lack of expression; it is neutral. She does not want strangers to group her with such and such people simply based on the way she dresses but obviously by wearing the veil she is saying that she is proud to be a Muslim. Her hope is that someday others would stop scrutinizing and start accepting. Accept her for her. Not letting how she looks and dresses affect their opinion on her. That is irrelevant. As long as she does not smell, there is no need to back off.

But there are two sides to this story, unfortunately. One side is of her relationship with others of another beliefs and the other is of her relationship with persons who confess to have the same belief as she does. Interestingly, those who are supposed to belong to the same faith as her criticize the tradition of veiling, which she holds dearly, more harshly than the rest. “Where did they go wrong?” she often asks herself. ‘They’ means the community of her religion. ‘Go wrong’ refers to the absence of respect among them. It is entirely fine if they do not see eye to eye but to ban the headscarf in universities? That is unnecessary. The reason being in the name of modernization is not good enough. What about the United States of America? Isn’t it modern? American universities allow her and her friends who dress modestly to go to classes and receive the education they eagerly seek. What is the explanation to that? If those countries really want to emulate the West, then the “land of the free and home of the brave” is certainly the best example.

Admittedly, I am a bit biased. But then again, who is not? One’s choice of friends and clothes and college major is already a show of bias over one and not the other. Thus, as much as I try to be fair, there is a constant voice inside my head that cannot see the true flip side of uncovering the head for a woman. If I can, there is no need for me to go ‘out of my way’ in an already alien place to appear more different in addition to everything else – skin color and accent. Why call for more attention to myself? However, it is acknowledged that there are problems in today’s world that could cause a Muslim woman, or Muslimah, to be better off letting her hair down. Firstly, with terrorism on the rise, there is a generalization among those who are not familiar with Islam that all Muslims are directly or indirectly terrorists. By wearing the hijab, a woman faces the possibility of threats and would, as a consequence, live in constant fear. The smart move then is to conform to society in the name of safety. To add insult to injury – literally – fanatic feminist movements might one day extremely oppose this tradition and try to make legislations against women being veiled. This could take away Muslims’ legal freedom to cover up as what is currently happening in certain Middle Eastern and European countries. Again, to get that perfect balance it appears that taking the veil off is the right path in today’s modern world rather than facing the risk of defying those feminists.

Feminism as a movement is not a new order. It has been around for decades and one famous account of feminism in women’s history is the bra-burning incident during the 1968 Miss America beauty pageant. Although many have claimed that story as false, the idea behind it stays the same. Yes, they do not actually burn their brassieres but instead throw them, together with nylon stockings, girdles and whatnots, into a “freedom trash can”. They wanted to make a statement and more importantly for that statement to last. In my opinion, they accomplished only one of their objectives: to make a lasting statement. And the most famous one is that coming from an Illinois legislator from the 1970s calling them “braless, brainless broads.” The point that I am trying to make is that nobody really gets what they were fighting against. In fact, they were ridiculed by the masses for such juvenile act. These feminists do not understand the true meaning of women’s rights - or equal rights for that matter. They wanted women to have all the same rights that a man has and an equal opportunity to rise in a male-dominated world. That is a praise-worthy cause. But how do they suggest we achieve that when our nature calls for us to be the nurturing women, wife, and mother, on top of all the other responsibilities of a man? I could easily go into another debate over this but will not. Not today, not in this paper. Women are not men and vice versa. I believe the saying goes, “If something looks like a duck, walks like a duck and sounds like a duck, then it is definitely a duck.” Unlike those of the feminists’, the statement made by veiled Muslim women is clear in that they want to be respected simply as the other gender – not as the weaker one. The only thing though that I could relate to those bra-burners is their courage to go against societal norm, which I do every single day in my life.

The aim that modern women need to have in their lives is not one of equal rights, but that of women’s rights. In other words, the right to be a woman - proudly. Women have a wonderful feat that not one man can experience his entire lifetime: the ability to give birth. There is no need in wanting to be equal to a man when nature proves that men and women are “equally different”. In my personal opinion, wearing the headscarf promotes dignity, self-worth and respect; something that no bra-throwing activity could offer. Our expectation of men thus changes for them to treat women as more than an equal but also as a lady. However, it is needed to be stressed here that those are only my opinions and of a limited few.

If only those in high-ranking positions, such as those in politics, would entertain the idea of continuously wearing modestly, it would bring a halt to the world of politics as being a beauty competition (example: the 2008 presidential campaign involving Sarah Palin) to being a real competition of intellectual abilities. Subsequently, their call for women’s rights would truly be respected for its substance. As a female still growing into my own self, I desperately need a role model besides those found in history and religious text books. Hence, I am glad that I found one recently in Dalia Mogahed – President Obama’s veiled Muslim adviser currently part of the White House team. Why is she an inspiration to me? Because I am a political science major. Suddenly there is this living proof that anything is possible if one just believes.

“And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head – it is just as though her head were shaved.” (1 Corinthians 11:5)

I have a lot of friends back home, a wide variety of them in fact. Malaysia, like most colonized nations, retains its after-effect of being multi-racial for it has three major races, four major religions, and certainly many other distinguishable aspects among the residents. Some of my closest friends are Christian-Chinese, some are atheists, and most are Muslim-Malays. This emphasize on religion may sound weird to Americans since there is the famous separation of church and state in the country. But where I came from, a person’s religion is important as it is clearly stated in his or her national identity card. Not just that but the country’s “National Principles” also make us pledge our belief first and foremost in God before the King, the country, the constitution, and the rule of law. In other words, we respect each other’s belief because it is so much entrenched in us. The catch is that this respect exists only among different believers. Among Muslims themselves, the pressure is on. Certain times one or two would try to ‘prove me wrong’ by pointing out that even though they do not comply with Islamic teachings, they are still considered by most as successful in life. I agree. But the thing that they seem unable to grasp is that everyone is different. Every person has a different goal in life and no two persons see everything entirely the same way. I never once forced my friends to wear modestly yet there are those who are calling me to show off my skin even if they know I am not comfortable with that. Why do these people think there is only one way to survive in today’s supposed modern world?

I have to admit that it is especially hard when you see your fellow girlfriends wear cute baby tees with short – REAL SHORT – skirts. As a girl, especially one that is part of a group, of course I do not want to feel left out in appearing cute. So how do I handle this stressful situation? In countless ways over the years, I have to admit. Embarrassingly, in spite of my plea for others to stop judging me, I did the same thing years ago to fellow schoolmates. When I was much younger I would choose my friends based on the criterion of their clothing. If she covers up then she is my friend, if she does not then we have to go our separate ways. But later on I learned that what I was doing was not right. Who am I to judge a person simply based on the way she dresses? It is certainly not the only measure to a person. Adding to that, I got a nice long lecture from my parents. I remember my dad said, “I don’t care if you befriend a person who takes drugs. As long as you know what’s right and what’s wrong, I trust you.” I bring that with me everywhere I go nowadays.

Slowly, I started to open up. I accepted not just those who do not wear the headscarf, but also those sexy ones. My dad was right. My sexy girlfriends are both respectful and absolutely fun to be around with.

But during those years of searching for friends from different backgrounds, I stumbled upon one who is of the opposite kind. She comes from a family that does not observe the headscarf religiously. Her mother may wear a flimsy cloth around her head but with her neck showing, nonetheless. And then she met me when we were in secondary school. “I’ve always wanted to wear the headscarf but no one else is wearing it!” confided her in me. It is testament to the amount of pressure we face even in a Muslim-majority country. Therefore she was so excited to finally meet someone who does have the same desire. At first her family was not supportive of her change but she fought off all the back talks and weird looks by wearing the hijab proudly. How so? By pairing a purple headscarf with a funky purple t-shirt from Forever 21 and a pair of jeans from Guess. She knows how to dress up and she does it well. For some reason I feel happy not just for her, but also with myself. I did not force her to change but instead I played a significant role in boosting her self-confidence to be comfortable in her own skin. Nothing can beat that.

"O Prophet, tell your wives and daughters and the believing women that they should cast their outer garments over their bodies (when abroad) so that they should be known and not molested" (Quran 33:59)

My mum did not cover her head when she was my age. Both my paternal and maternal grandmothers did not cover their heads when they were my age. But I do. It has nothing to do with force or subjugation. It is a personal conviction. I choose this way of life not because of you, them, him or her. I choose to wear the veil for two people: myself and He, my Lord. It has nothing to do with my political stance or rebellious nature. It is simpler than anyone could ever imagine. The veil neither restricts my movements nor my dreams; it no more than liberates me to act accordingly. Though others may say that even without it they could still do the same, this is not about them, remember, this is about me.

Syaza Farhana Mohamad Shukri
Seminar in Composition, 2009


Greenfieldboyce, Nell. "Pageant Protest Sparked Bra-Burning Myth : NPR." NPR : National Public Radio : News & Analysis, World, US, Music & Arts : NPR. Web. 25 Oct. 2009. .

Lewis, Jone J. "Bra Burning Feminists of the Sixties - NOT." Women's History - Comprehensive Women's History Research Guide. 25 Oct. 2009 .